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THE GODFATHER OF GORE PDF Print E-mail
Written by By Franklin E. Wales   
Nov 08, 2004 at 02:00 AM
"They couldn't watch the scene where the lunatic reaches into the girl's mouth and pulls out her tongue. I said 'Gee, that happens every day somewhere,"' says Herschell Gordon Lewis with a laugh. The film he was speaking of was the now legendary BLOOD FEAST. The world's first gore movie.
Though criticized by many in his time for his shortcuts in filmmaking, H. G. Lewis has always viewed movie making as a business, and being a business, realized that it has its ups and downs. Understanding that is what made Lewis a survivor in a business that has destroyed many. In fact, the fate of Lewis' first two films. THE PRIME TIME (58), and LIVING VENUS (60), would have been enough to end many a career. The distribution company hired for those two films went bust owing Lewis an enormous amount in rentals. Having sold his business to finance these two pictures, Lewis was left without income, forcing him to take a low end job elsewhere.
Enter David Friedman. Friedman told Lewis that he had found a distributor willing to pay nine thousand dollars for "a one reel picture in color with some pretty girls in it, and an occasional dropped brassiere."
That short eventually became the hit feature, THE ADVENTURES OF LUCKY PIERRE (61). In a few short years following the success of LUCKY PIERRE, Lewis and Friedman gained the reputation of producing such features quickly and cheaply. They managed this by utilizing non union cast and crews, simple scripts that called for very few location changes and zero special effects.
By 1963, however, Hollywood had taken a long look at these cheaply made money makers, and realized that if they'd lower their standards a little, they'd raise their bankbooks considerably. Lewis realized that the end of an era was at hand. "1 felt that these movies were about to become a crowded field - one where we were just one more competitor. In fact, some people were beginning to pour considerable budgets into them. I didn't want to do that."
In any business it's the new idea that makes money. "What else might we do? We were, alter all, in some respect, innovators. So, Dave and I sat down and tired to figure what kind of motion picture we might make where we were not in direct competition with the major studios."
When the answer came to Lewis, it came all at once. "I saw a movie which I thought was foolish. Here was a gangster pumped full of bullet holes who died peacefully with his eyes closed. I thought, 'That's not right...'"
"The answer was, in a four letter word. GORE. I thought that we might concentrate in that area. We would have the field entirely to ourselves. Nobody ever made a movie like that. So we decided to make a gore movie."
With a trip to Miami Beach, Florida financed by another movie, Lewis and Friedman raised the money for the film stock needed for their picture. BLOOD FEAST. "We came without a script. I won't say we made it up as we went along, but it wasn't something we treated with reverence. We shot it, I think, in six days."

"It was played in broad strokes, but it had to be. This was the watershed picture, shot cheap. In fact we would not have made it if we didn't have (BELL, B'ARE AND BEAUTIFUL) to underwrite our trip to Florida. Some of the people in that were also in BLOOD FEAST. We didn't have time to recast We finished theirs and started shooting ours two days later. That's the nature of low budget production's."
It was only when they returned to Chicago to cut the film, that doubts over what they had created began to sink in. "People who looked at this filthy work print full of grease pencil marks, couldn't bare to took at it. Now' I'll grant you those were kinder, gentler times in which people were more easily stunned than they are now. But still, it bothered me that what we regarded as a joke, these people took seriously. The question that came to our minds was not whether we were disturbing people's minds, but whether we could get this picture played anywhere!"
The decision was finally made to premiere BLOOD FEAST in a small theater, owned by all investor, in Peoria, Illinois. "We decided to open the picture (there) with the very logical conclusion that if we die in Peoria, who's going to know? We opened on a Friday. On Saturday, Dave and I drove down there. When we were about five miles from the theater, there was this big pile up on the highway. I said 'That's all we need: To have some sort of accident.' The accident turned out to he our movie! It opened on Friday, and by Saturday they couldn't wait to get into that theater. It was the smash that could have never been anticipated. Word got out in a hurry that we had broken new ground. Well, we had certainly dug new ground!."
Lewis and Friedman followed the success of BLOOD FEAST with what would become the remaining two installments of the Blood Trilogy, TWO THOUSAND MANIACS, and COLOR ME BLOOD RED, before parting company in the mid sixties. David Friedman moved to California and returned primarily, to the nudie field. Lewis, recognizing the drive-in was his market, continued to crank out exploitation movies in a variety of fields. All totaled, Lewis put out over forty pictures in under fifteen years before wrapping up his career behind the camera with THE GORE-GORE GIRLS (74).
It's impossible to say how many filmmakers today owe a debt of gratitude to H. G. Lewis. Many, like John Waters, are not afraid to express their thanks. "Hershell Gordon Lewis" Waters said when contacted for this article, "is a Gore-God that I've worshipped since I was a teen in turmoil. His fake blood, gory tongues, ripe livers and oozing intestines liberated me from a suburban life and gave focus towards a career immersed in trashy film. I'm eternally grateful."
And so are we!

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